Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. This past February, that nightmare became a reality for Amy and Troy Wildhaber of Beaufort.
On Valentine’s Day, when many people were making plans to celebrate, the Wildhabers’ son, Zac, was clinging to life after being in a serious vehicle accident the day before.
Zac passed away on Feb. 14, and just days after the accident he became a silent hero to more than 50 people when his organs and tissue were donated.
An 11-year-old boy from Texas received Zac’s heart. A 54-year-old man who had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis was the recipient of Zac’s lungs. His liver was given to a Missouri recipient who suffered from the Hepatitis C virus.
A 39-year-old woman received Zac’s left kidney, while a 57-year-old man received the right kidney.
Additionally, as many as 50 people were helped with bone that was able to be donated and others with skin donations.
From that tragic accident, Zac’s Challenge was born.
April is National Donor Awareness Month and the family began the challenge at the end of April.
The goal, Amy Wildhaber said, is to get information about organ, tissue and eye donation out to the public.
“When Zachary passed away, we found that the community was really supportive,” she said, “but many expressed that they had never really thought about donation or had a lot of questions.”
The Wildhaber had always been supporters of organ donation.
“We were surprised by how much comfort it brought us,” Amy Wildhaber said.
Their main goal is to educate people about organ donations and to try and get 1,000 people to register to become an organ donor.
A kickoff event was held at Missouri Baptist Hospital in Sullivan, where Amy works.
In addition to registering on the national donation list, people can take Zac’s Challenge, by committing to assist five others in registering.
So far, about 375 have registered through Zac’s Challenge. Most likely, there are more, but some may have mailed them on their own or registered online.
Need for Donations
As a nurse, Amy Wildhaber had a conversation with her children before the accident about how they felt about organ donation. At that time, Zac said he would want to be an organ donor.
That conversation, she now feels, was God’s way of helping the family know they did the right thing.
“We knew it was a good thing . . . without organ donation, Zachary’s story ends,” Amy Wildhaber said. “It’s still a tragedy, it’s still devastating. It’s still hard every day, but we can see what good it does for someone else and we have a piece of that to hold on to.”
The couple agrees that organ donation was one of the easiest decisions they made.
“We approached each other about him becoming a donor when we were at Children’s (Hospital),” Troy Wildhaber said.
Zac had two neurological exams that both confirmed he was brain dead.
“There’s such a massive need and the list grows every minute,” Amy Wildhaber said. “Every 17 minutes another name is added and every 10 minutes somebody passes away who was waiting on the list. It makes no sense to me that people would have the opportunity to help somebody else and not even consider it.”
Within 60 minutes of death, the hospital or health care organization has to report the death. At that time, the family will be notified if a person is on the donor registry.
“One person can affect 25 to 50 people. If we register 1,000, that’s 25,000 people who may be affected. We can’t think of a better legacy for Zachary,” Amy Wildhaber said.
It’s important though, that donors inform their family of their decision, Amy Wildhaber said, because if the family doesn’t want the donation to take place, the hospital usually will respect the family’s wishes.
“There is no redo,” she said. “Once the opportunity is gone, it’s gone.”
Since the accident, Amy and Troy Wildhaber, and Troy’s sister Karen Peth, who also is a nurse, have set up booths to help inform people about organ donation.
“I feel like this is God’s work,” Amy Wildhaber said. “I tried every possible excuse I could. Every time I think of an excuse or think I can’t do it, every time we run into a brick wall it seems like there are 14 things that open up.”
Amy, Troy and Karen have set up a booth at 25 events and done several presentations on organ donation. Amy said she is open to making presentations at schools or other places where people are interested.
Another element of the challenge is helping disparage common myths and rumors about organ donation.
Some myths include:
• My family will have to pay if I become an organ donor.
There is no cost to a donor’s family or estate for organ or tissue donation
• I have a history of medical illness. No one could benefit from my donation.
Few medical conditions disqualify a person from donating organs. HIV and hepatitis are exceptions.
• I am too old to be a donor.
Age limits for organ donation no longer exist.
• They take everything, even if I only want to donate one organ.
Donors can specify which organs and tissues to donate.
• Organ donation disfigures the body.
Donation does not interfere with customary funeral arrangements, such as open casket viewing.
• Doctors will not try to save my life if they know I am an organ donor.
The doctor treating a patient is different from the transplant team. Organ donation can only be considered after a brain death has been declared.
• My religion wouldn’t support it.
Most major religions, with the exception of Shinto, approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it a gift, a humanitarian act of giving.
Myth information is according to Donate Life Missouri.
Adults 18 and older can sign up for the list. Those 16 to 18 can sign up if they provide their parent’s contact information. Parents can add their children to the list.
If people want their name to count toward Zac’s Challenge, they can send enrollment forms to the Wildhabers at Zac’s Challenge, C/O Troy and Amy Wildhaber, 6785 Highway 185, Beaufort, MO 63013. They also can specify online that Zac’s Challenge is their reason for registering.
Enrollment forms and other resources can be found at zacschallenge.com.
Will Never Stop
Though the goal is to register 1,000, the family agreed that they don’t plan to stop at 1,000.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever stop,” Troy Wildhaber said.
“We hope that by the end of the year or by the one year anniversary, we can celebrate meeting our goal,” Amy Wildhaber said. “It would be a good way to mark that day.”
Amy Wildhaber recently was honored by KSDK as one of 10 “outstanding individuals” helping make a difference in the community.
Zac had completed graduation requirements in December and planned to walk with the Union High School Class of 2012 in May.
The Wildhabers have two other children Megan, 21, and Rob, 15. The family lives in Beaufort.
“Zac would help anybody, almost to a fault,” his mom said. “I think he would be proud of Zac’s Challenge.”